This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

The publication of the first results from the 2022 Census by the National Records of Scotland opens a new chapter in the story of Scotland’s population, stretching back to the first census in 1801.

For more than 220 years the census has helped us understand who we are as a society and has been used by generations of decision makers across the public, private and third sectors.

The results show the largest population ever recorded by Scotland’s Census at 5.4 million. This is a 2.7% increase on the 2011 census. The driver of this increase is more people moving to live in Scotland. Had it not been for this migration then the population of Scotland would have fallen as the number of deaths has exceeded the number of births.  As context this growth is lower than for other parts of the UK

What sort of population growth did our census taking forebears see? We published a fascinating chart in our release going back to the first census in 1801. This shows the population trebled between 1801 and 1921 from 1.6 million to 4.9 million.

A main theme from the numbers we’ve published is population ageing. We consider these numbers in two ways.

In absolute terms we can see the number of people aged 65 or over has increased to more than a million since 2011, an increase of more than 200,000. This means almost one in five of us are aged 65 or over. It’s actually past birth rates rather than death rates that are driving this increase as we are seeing larger cohorts born in the 1950s and 60s reach retirement age.

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A second way to consider population ageing is by looking at the balance between older and younger generations. In 2011 we found a similar proportion of the population were aged under 15 and 65 or over. Today’s results show over a quarter of a million more older than younger people.

Historic demographic context is again fascinating here. As recently as the 1971 Census there were twice as many people aged under 15 or younger than there were aged 65 or over.

The first release is just the start of the census data that will be published. NRS will release further results from Scotland’s Census 2022 from spring 2024 onwards.

In summer 2024, a series of topic data reports will provide new and in-depth insights into the characteristics of Scotland's people across a whole range of subjects including ethnicity, religion, the labour market, education and housing. For the first time, it will also include exciting new data on armed forces veterans, sexual orientation and trans status or history.

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As readers might expect, a huge amount of work has gone into preparing these statistics. Not least we have statistical methods to produce estimates which represent the whole population rather than just who completed the questionnaire. Following the collection period last year and the lower than expected response rate, we adapted our original statistical methods, working closely with a group of international census experts.

Our work has been endorsed by the independent statistics regulator for the UK, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) who awards National Statistics designation based on the high quality, good practice and comprehensiveness of statistics.

So as for the past 220 years, the unique and comprehensive information in the census will help to shape Scotland for future generations and enable decision makers to plan the services we all rely on in the years to come.

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